10 Best Japanese Movies to Watch 2021

by Erika Shinomoto
best japanese movies to watch

We curated a list of the best Japanese movies to watch. Check it out!

I love sitting down after a busy and long day and watching movies to help me unwind and relax. When we talk about cinema, we cannot ignore Japanese cinema and the masterpieces that have been delivered to the world. 

The world of Japanese films is pretty vast and it’s very difficult to narrow down. So if you are looking for the best Japanese movies to watch, you might be overwhelmed with the extremely long list that will look right up at you. 

So, to help you make some wise choices and make sure that your entry to Japanese cinema is spectacular, I have put together some of the best movies that you must definitely watch.

Best Japanese Movies to Watch — Quick Summary

Best Japanese Movies to WatchGenreEditor’s Rating
Tokyo StoryDrama8.7/10
Your Namefantasy 8.4/10
Spirited Awayfantasy, drama8.6/10
Princess Mononokefantasy 8.4/10
Howl’s Moving CastleFamily, Fantasy 8.2/10
Weathering With Youfantasy 7.5/10
Battle RoyaleAction, Adventure, Drama 7.6/10
RashomonCrime, Drama, Mystery 8.2/10
Nobody KnowsDrama 8.1/10
The Girl Who Leapt Through TimeFantasy, Romance 7.7/10

Top Japanese Movies to Watch

Tokyo Story – Best Japanese Movies To Watch

Genre: Drama | Age Rating: 13+ | Run Time: 2hrs 16mins | Director: Yasujiro Ozu 

Tokyo Story is a movie that takes us on a retired couple’s journey to visit their children in a post-war Tokyo. This visit is supposed to be a very pleasant and familial one, however, the couple realizes that this visit has actually put an extra burden on their children. 

Knowing this, the couple returns home and the mother dies in just a few days. What I love about this movie is that the story is pretty simple, it really makes you question several scenarios that happen in the real world. 

It brings all the complexities of family relations, generational conflict, and the predicament of old age. These are the themes that we will all be able to relate to and that is why I absolutely connect with it on a very different level. 

The movie is also quite subtle as there is no dramatization of plots. However, it is extremely powerful and it will touch the chords of your heart.

Your Name

Genre: Fantasy | Age Rating: TV-PG | Run Time: 1h 46mins | Director: Makoto Shinkai

Your Name is a movie that made me love Japanese movies. This is an extremely beautiful and exquisite movie that has a gripping storyline. The movie introduces us to our central characters named Taki Tachibana and Mitsuha Miyamizu. 

These two characters live in two different parts of Japan but there is a very magical connection between the two. Without realizing it, their bodies are switched with each other and this keeps repeating. They finally realize this and the more the switch happens, the more they learn about each other. 

This is a very beautiful movie that will keep you hooked to the end and believe me, you will definitely shed a few tears by the end of it.

Spirited Away

Genre: Fantasy, drama | Age Rating: PG | Run Time: 2h 5mins | Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Spirited Away is probably one of the most classic Japanese movies that you can ever watch. This masterpiece is known worldwide and has also received several awards and recognitions. 

This movie brings us the tale of a 10-year-old girl named Chihiro who gets entrapped into a new world along with her parents. Here, a curse cast by a witch transforms her parents into pigs. 

In order to help her parents and get back into the real world, Chihiro starts working under the witch and she also changes her name to Sen. 

I have already watched this movie at least 10 times and I am still not bored. This is a classic movie that brings to the forefront an amazing storyline that is complete with excellent graphics and animation.

Princess Mononoke

Genre: Fantasy | Age Rating: PG-13 | Run Time: 2h 14mins | Director: Hayao Miyazaki

This fantasy movie is one that I absolutely love. Princess Mononoke lets us enter Japan during the Muromachi period. 

The movie introduces us to our two central characters: Ashitaka and San. Ashitaka is a prince whereas San is a woman who has been raised by the wolves. 

The major theme running throughout the movie is the conflict that runs between humans and nature. The movie basically tells us that we need to co-exist peacefully with nature otherwise everything is going to go absolutely haywire.

Howl’s Moving Castle

Genre: Family, Fantasy | Age Rating: PG | Run Time: 1h 59mins | Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Howl’s Moving Castle is known to be a movie with a very strong female character. It is also one of the most-watched movies of all time. The movie portrays one of the strongest characters that you will ever come across and she goes by the name of Sophie Hatter. 

The movie shows her journey and it is extremely well directed to show every strength that she has which uses to deal with her curse. 

This movie really motivated me and it helped me to let go of all my fears and anxieties regarding my dreams. It pushed me forward so that I, just like Sophie Hatter, could pursue what I really wanted. For all the youth of today, I highly recommend this movie.

Weathering With You

Genre: Fantasy | Age Rating: PG-13 | Run Time: 1h 52mins | Director: Makoto Shinkai

Weathering With You has been directed by the director of the extremely popular 5 Centimetres Per Second. The movie revolves around two central characters and follows their life. 

We get introduced to Hodaka, a high school boy who runs away from home. The second character that we get introduced to is a young girl named Hina, who lives in a busy city all alone. She has lost her parents. 

Both of these central characters come together to help as many people as they possibly can. The two of them are blessed with supernatural powers with which they can control the weather. 

So, they use their powers to help people on all of their important days such as weddings and festivals. The movie is filled with different themes including meteorological phenomena, child-rearing, and poverty.

Battle Royale

Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama | Age Rating: PG | Run Time: 1h 54mins| Director: Kinji Fukasaku

Battle Royale is a movie revolving around the government. The cult classic is one of the most talked-about movies in Japanese cinema and there is a reason why I love this movie so much; it reminds me of The Hunger Games, which is one movie I can go back to again and again. 

The plot of Battle Royale is somewhat similar to that of The Hunger Games. However, the scenes in this movie are more brutal and gory. 

This is a movie that portrays the themes of the animalistic and emotional traits faced by humankind. In the movie, there is a battle organized by the Japanese government in which teenagers must fight each other in order to suppress the population of juvenile delinquents.

Rashomon

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery | Age Rating: PG | Run Time: 1h 28mins | Director: Akira Kurosawa

Rashomon is a movie that was quite daring in the way it was written and directed. It brings forward a heinous crime and how it was interpreted from different perspectives of a bandit, a Samurai, the Samurai’s wife, and the woodcutter. The climax is absolutely stunning and thrilling and the movie will make you question the very nature of humanity.

Nobody Knows

Genre: Drama | Age Rating: PG-13 | Run Time: 2h 21mins | Director: Hirokazu Koreeda

Nobody Knows is a movie that has a fictionalized storyline, but it is based on real events. The storytelling and approach of the movie are absolutely spectacular and it keeps you hooked to the movie. 

The movie has a very stable pace and it takes you from one scene to another with its naturalist qualities. The film brings to us microcosmic themes of family and it unveils Japan’s social dilemmas on a much larger scale. 

Nobody Knows brings the case of abandonment of children, which is based on all the true events. The movie talks about a 12-year-old child known as Akira who is also the eldest among the four siblings living in a Tokyo apartment. 

The movie shows the affection that these children have for each other and how they pass the time while they are alone together. 

This is a movie that made me cry a lot so make sure you have a box of tissues on hand when you are watching this.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

Genre: Fantasy, Romance | Age Rating: PG | Run Time: 1h 38 mins | Director: Mamoru Hosoda

This is quite a futuristic movie that introduces us to a protagonist who is gifted with the ability to manipulate time. Mikoto can time travel and uses it to perfect all of her days at high school, which were previously quite clumsy. 

This is a heartbreaking coming-of-age movie that brings out a lot of sentimental and personal values. 

In the movie, our protagonist Mikoto is faced with small decisions that lead to consequences she never thought of. One such event was when she decided to go back in time to prevent her friend’s question regarding them being a couple. This decision of going back in time to undo this is something that she deeply regrets. 

The movie basically tries to tell us that every action that we take has consequences we may never be able to anticipate and so we must eventually face the truth.

Which is the best Japanese movie to watch?

While the number of Japanese movies that have made a mark in world cinema is too many to name, but if you ask me about the best Japanese movie that you must absolutely watch, I would say that it is Tokyo Story. 

The movie really pulls at your heartstrings and makes you so emotional. It also makes you question some of the harsh realities that we all see every day. The movie talks about themes such as family, parents, and generational conflict. 

It makes us question so many things that we have now deemed as normal. The movie is extremely subtle and there has been no over-dramatization of plots to make an effect. The movie has really made a mark and if you want to experience the beauty of Japanese cinema this is a movie you must definitely watch.

Also Read:

  1. Best Japanese Dramas on Netflix
  2. Best Japanese anime Series on Netflix
  3. Best Japanese Animation Movies
  4. Best Japanese Anime of All Time

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